COVID-19

Articles and publications written by the CCC about the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic.

BRASIL TEM QUE FORTALECER AS LEIS DE PI PARA COMBATER A PANDEMIA E VOLTAR A CRESCER

Consumer Choice Center (Centro de Escolha do Consumidor) tem acompanhado de perto os efeitos da pandemia na vida dos consumidores, desde o acesso e distribuição da vacina até as consequências no mercado interno e international.

Para Fabio Fernandes, diretor global de Relações Institucionais e Governamentais da entidade de defesa do consumidor Consumer Choice Center, “agora que grande parte dos países do mundo tem acesso à vacina, a próxima luta não será contra o vírus mas pela recuperação econômica”

“As leis e acordos de propriedade intelectual como o TRIPs – do qual o Brasil é signatário – foram fundamentais na descoberta e desenvolvimento em um curtíssimo espaço de tempo da vacina para o COVID-19. Porém algumas pessoas querem flexibilizar essas regras, o que causaria danos irreversíveis” disse Fernandes.

“Precisamos permanecer firmes em nossa defesa dos direitos de propriedade intelectual se quisermos derrotar o coronavírus e as suas variantes, além de muitas outras doenças que hoje são incuráveis. Proteger a propriedade intelectual é a única maneira de dar a esses pacientes uma chance de cura. Se agirmos sem temperamento agora, expandindo ou flexibilizando a TRIPs e enfraquecermos ainda mais os direitos de PI, causaremos danos que dificilmente serão reversíveis, e o mundo pós-pandêmico terá de pagar a conta.”

No Brasil, o artigo 40 da Lei de Direitos de Propriedade Intelectual nº 9.279/1996 que está sendo julgado pelo STF, é um mecanismo criado para compensar atrasos administrativos do Inpi (Instituto Nacional de Propriedade Industrial) e concede automaticamente à patente uma exclusividade mínima de dez anos.

Para Fernandes “Os consumidores estão preocupados com a possibilidade de novos produtos, tecnologias e medicamentos não estarem disponíveis no Brasil por uma insegurança jurídica. A lei de propriedade intelectual no Brasil está de acordo com o padrão internacional e essa decisão do STF pode enfraquecer esse direito pondo em risco o futuro da inovação no Brasil”

“Vacinas para o setor de agropecuária, remédios contra o Câncer, componentes de informática como microchips para celulares, telecomunicações como a rede 5G e até Inteligência Artificial são alguns exemplos de produtos e inovações que podem atrasar ou até mesmo nunca chegarem ao mercado brasileiro se o Artigo 40 for derrubado” afirmou Fernandes.

“A raiz do problema não é o parágrafo 40 e sim os enormes atrasos que os órgãos públicos brasileiros causam na aprovação de patentes. Esses atrasos prejudicam não apenas as empresas que solicitam proteção de patentes, mas também os consumidores e pacientes que aguardam a aprovação das patentes para ver a entrada de produtos e medicamentos no mercado brasileiro.” explicou Fernandes.

“Os maiores interessados em derrubar o parágrafo 40 são as indústrias farmacêuticas de medicamentos genéricos e biossimilares, que usam os consumidores para fazer campanha para ‘redução nos preços’. O que precisamos na realidade é adotar políticas que baixem impostos e diminuam a burocracia e não aquelas que legalizam o roubo de propriedade intelectual, afinal, os consumidores querem as mais novas tecnologias com preços competitivos e não produtos velhos baratos.” argumentou Fernandes.

“A inovação é resultado de um ambiente de segurança jurídica que permita o inventor de ser remunerado pelo enorme tempo e dinheiro investido em desenvolver a nova tecnologia. Privar o inventor do seu direito acaba por privar também os consumidores acesso à inovações e o país de crescer economicamente no médio e longo prazo. Por isso a Estratégia Nacional de Propriedade Intelectual tem um horizonte de 10 anos” disse Fernandes.

“Qualquer tentativa de erodir a propriedade intelectual deve ser vista pelo que realmente é: uma ameaça à inovações futuras e à nossa recuperação econômica pós-pandemia.” concluiu Fernandes.

Originally published here.

Le Canada devrait bloquer une dispense de brevet pour les vaccins COVID

L’octroi d’une dérogation unique crée un dangereux précédent d’annulation des droits de propriété intellectuelle, mettant en péril l’innovation future et la vie de milliards de victimes de virus.

Affaires mondiales Canada n’a toujours pas pris de décision sur l’opportunité de soutenir une dérogation aux droits de propriété intellectuelle pour les vaccins COVID-19. Le Canada, ainsi que les États-Unis, l’UE, le Royaume-Uni, la Suisse, le Japon, la Norvège, l’Australie et le Brésil, ont tous retardé leur décision sur la «dérogation aux ADPIC» proposée par l’Inde et l’Afrique du Sud l’année dernière. L’ADPIC est le volet «Aspects des droits de propriété intellectuelle liés au commerce» de l’OMC.

L’Inde et l’Afrique du Sud sont soutenues par une coalition comprenant Médecins sans frontières, Human Rights Watch et le secrétaire général de l’Organisation mondiale de la santé, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Leur argument en faveur de la dérogation est simple: cela supprimerait les barrières juridiques qui empêchent les pays en développement de produire leurs propres vaccins avec la technologie développée par les entreprises de vaccins.

Les partisans de la dérogation soutiennent que parce que le COVID représente une telle menace mondiale et que les vaccins ont maintenant été développés, les pays à revenu faible et intermédiaire devraient être autorisés à les fabriquer eux-mêmes – ceux qui ont la technologie et le capital humain pour le faire, c’est-à-dire.

Bien que l’objectif d’accroître la disponibilité des vaccins dans le monde en développement soit à la fois noble et réalisable, une dérogation à la propriété intellectuelle est une mauvaise façon d’y parvenir. L’annulation des droits de propriété intellectuelle détruit le fondement de ce qui rend l’innovation médicale possible. Les droits de propriété intellectuelle sont des protections qui contribuent à favoriser l’innovation et offrent une sécurité juridique aux innovateurs afin qu’ils puissent profiter de leurs efforts et les financer. Un affaiblissement des règles de propriété intellectuelle nuirait activement à tous ceux qui dépendent de médicaments et de vaccins innovants, y compris les plus vulnérables du monde.

Si le coût de la recherche et de la production d’un vaccin COVID est de 1 milliard de dollars, sans garantie de succès, il y a relativement peu de sociétés biotechnologiques ou pharmaceutiques qui peuvent supporter ce coût. Dans le cas du COVID, compte tenu des connaissances spécialisées nécessaires pour développer ces vaccins et de l’infrastructure de stockage frigorifique nécessaire pour en distribuer certains, il semble peu plausible qu’ils aient pu être développés sans les contrats d’approvisionnement traditionnels que nous avons vus en Amérique du Nord.

BioNTech, la société allemande dirigée par l’équipe mari-femme d’Uğur Şahin et Özlem Türeci qui s’est associée à Pfizer pour les essais et la distribution de leur vaccin ARNm, a été fondée à l’origine pour essayer de développer des moyens d’utiliser les techniques d’ARNm pour guérir le cancer. Avant la pandémie, il s’est endetté massivement et s’est brouillé pour financer ses recherches. Une fois que la pandémie a commencé, elle a fait pivoter ses opérations et a produit l’un des premiers vaccins à ARNm COVID, que des centaines de millions de personnes ont reçu.

Avec des milliards de dollars de ventes aux gouvernements et des centaines de millions d’investissements privés directs, nous pouvons nous attendre à ce que BioNTech, désormais florissante, soit à la pointe de la recherche sur le cancer à ARNm, ce qui pourrait éventuellement guérir la maladie. Il en va de même pour les nombreuses maladies «orphelines» et rares qui, autrement, ne reçoivent pas de financement majeur.

Cela aurait-il été possible sans les protections de la propriété intellectuelle? Non. Les protections de la propriété intellectuelle garantissent que les innovateurs peuvent profiter de leurs efforts, recouvrer leurs coûts et réinvestir dans la recherche et le développement de nouveaux médicaments et vaccins.

Une meilleure façon d’encourager une distribution équitable des vaccins existants est de ne pas éliminer les incitations financières pour en créer de nouveaux, mais de faire ce que la plupart des fabricants de vaccins COVID-19 font déjà en fait: réduire leurs prix pour les pays en développement ou vendre le vaccin à Coût. Les développeurs du vaccin Oxford-AstraZeneca se sont engagés à vendre au prix coûtant jusqu’à la fin de la pandémie.

Pour sa part, Moderna a volontairement décidé de ne pas appliquer les droits de propriété intellectuelle sur son vaccin ARNm tant que la pandémie n’est pas déclarée terminée. Après cela, Moderna reprendra l’application de ses droits de propriété intellectuelle sur sa technologie, ce qui lui permet de continuer à recouvrer les coûts et à financer la future R&D. La non-exécution est son droit, bien sûr: c’est le titulaire des droits. Les gouvernements et autres agences, y compris privées, peuvent également acheter des vaccins en vrac et les distribuer gratuitement aux pays à faible revenu, comme le fait le plan multilatéral COVAX.

Vous pourriez penser que ces concessions des producteurs de vaccins et les contributions des gouvernements suffiraient à réprimer les appels à la dissolution de la propriété intellectuelle, mais les partisans d’une dérogation à la propriété intellectuelle ont doublé. Médecins sans frontières, par exemple, souhaite que toutes les recherches et technologies liées aux vaccins COVID soient mises à la disposition des pays qui en ont besoin, ce qui équivaut à l’annulation complète des protections de propriété intellectuelle.

Plutôt que de célébrer l’innovation capitale qui, en un temps record, a conduit à près d’une douzaine de vaccins approuvés au niveau mondial pour lutter contre une pandémie mortelle, ces groupes diffusent un message populiste qui oppose les pays pauvres aux riches. S’il est encore politiquement à la mode de s’en tenir à «Big Pharma», même après avoir fourni les vaccins qui mettront fin à la pandémie, les conséquences de raids IP organisés de ce type seraient horribles.

Pour mettre fin à la pandémie actuelle et lutter efficacement contre les futures, nous avons besoin de l’innovation des producteurs de vaccins qui ont rendu possible la campagne mondiale actuelle de vaccination. L’octroi d’une dérogation supposée unique crée un dangereux précédent d’annulation des droits de propriété intellectuelle qui mettrait en péril l’innovation future et donc la vie de milliards de victimes de virus, actuelles et potentielles.

Originally published here.

Canada should block a patent waiver for COVID vaccines

Granting a one-time waiver creates dangerous precedent of nullifying IP rights, jeopardizing future innovation and lives of literally billions of virus victims

Global Affairs Canada still has not come to a decision on whether to support an intellectual property rights waiver for COVID-19 vaccines. Canada, along with the U.S., EU, U.K., Switzerland, Japan, Norway, Australia and Brazil, have all delayed deciding on the “TRIPS waiver” put forward by India and South Africa last year. TRIPS is the “Trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights” part of the WTO.

India and South Africa are supported by a coalition including Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, and World Health Organization Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Their argument in favour of the waiver is simple: it would remove the legal barriers that prevent developing countries from producing their own vaccines with the technology developed by vaccine firms.

Waiver supporters argue that because COVID represents such a global threat and because the vaccines have now been developed, low and middle-income countries should be allowed to manufacture them on their own — those that have the technology and human capital to do so, that is.

Although the goal of increasing vaccine availability in the developing world is both noble and attainable, an IP waiver is a bad way to go about achieving it. Nullifying IP rights destroys the bedrock of what makes medical innovation possible. Intellectual property rights are protections that help foster innovation and provide legal certainty to innovators so they can profit from and fund their efforts. A weakening of IP rules would actively hurt everyone who depends on innovative medicines and vaccines, including the world’s most vulnerable.

If the cost of researching and producing a COVID vaccine is $1 billion, with no guarantee of success, there are relatively few biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies that can stomach that cost. In the case of COVID, considering the specialized knowledge needed to develop these vaccines and the cold storage infrastructure required to distribute some of them, it seems implausible that they could have been developed without the traditional procurement contracts we’ve seen in North America.

BioNTech, the German company headed by the husband-wife team of Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci that partnered with Pfizer for trials and distribution of their mRNA vaccine, was originally founded to try to develop ways of using mRNA techniques to cure cancer. Before the pandemic, it took on massive debt and scrambled to fund its research. Once the pandemic began, it pivoted its operations and produced one of the first mRNA COVID vaccines, which hundreds of millions of people have received.

Originally published here.

Les arguments contre le passeport vaccinal européen

Les démocraties libérales devraient simplement s’abstenir de la mesure intrusive d’un passeport vaccinal.

À Bruxelles, la Commission européenne et les États membres ont peaufiné les détails du soi-disant certificat vert numérique de l’Union européenne, un nouveau nom stylé pour ce qui est essentiellement un passeport vaccinal européen. Pour l’essentiel, le programme est censé remplacer le test Covid-19 que les voyageurs sont désormais tenus de présenter négatif à leur arrivée ou avant leur départ d’un pays de la zone.

Il est important de noter que la Commission européenne prévoit que les États membres puissent également utiliser ce nouveau certificat à des fins autres que les voyages internationaux. En d’autres termes, il pourrait devenir obligatoire de le présenter à l’entrée dans une épicerie, une salle de concert ou un parc.

En tant que journaliste indépendant d’un journal luxembourgeois, j’ai interviewé en janvier la ministre de la Santé de mon pays, Paulette Lenert. Elle ne voyait absolument pas la nécessité d’un passeport vaccinal et envisageait de s’opposer probablement à une règle exigeant d’un citoyen luxembourgeois de renseigner son statut médical à une frontière. Elle a également souligné qu’un tel arrangement ne ferait qu’aggraver les controverses sur les vaccins.

Néanmoins, quelques mois plus tard, l’Union européenne est sur le point de déployer la proposition, sa présidence portugaise s’étant engagée à présenter un projet révisé d’ici le 14 avril. Les diplomates ne s’attendent toujours pas à ce que le programme soit mis en œuvre de manière réaliste avant juillet, étant donné que l’inter-opérabilité de ce projet est une tâche difficile. Il semble cependant que plus personne ne remette fondamentalement l’idée en question.

L’Union européenne semble vraiment céder aux demandes d’États membres comme la Grèce, qui a insisté sur le passeport dans le but de soutenir son industrie du tourisme. Athènes ne semble pas préoccupée par les implications plus larges d’un tel passeport électronique sur l’obligation vaccinale formelle.

LE PASSEPORT VACCINAL ET LA VIE PRIVÉE

Du point de vue de la vie privée, il est préoccupant que le passeport vaccinal européen expose des informations de santé sensibles aux pirates informatiques, nationaux et étrangers à propos de la vaccination, les résultats des tests et même des informations médicales relatives à la guérison du Covid. À cet égard, la Global Privacy Assembly a souligné que la protection de la vie privée devrait être au premier plan des considérations, suggérant entre autres que:

Des clauses d’extinction devraient être intégrées dans la conception de tels systèmes, prévoyant la suppression permanente de ces données ou bases de données, reconnaissant que le traitement de routine des informations sur la santé du Covid-19 aux frontières peut devenir inutile une fois la pandémie terminée.

L’Association du transport aérien international a déjà introduit son propre pass voyage fin 2020. Même si elle prétend que tout est fait avec une technologie décentralisée, les détails restent rares, ce qui n’est pas rassurant.

La Commission européenne a affirmé que le système européen ne nécessiterait que des informations essentielles qui incluraient des données de vaccin ou de test ainsi qu’un identifiant unique pour le certificat.

Dans sa proposition, elle prévoit également un système décentralisé:

Le certificat vert numérique ne devrait pas exiger la mise en place et la maintenance d’une base de données au niveau de l’UE, mais devrait permettre la vérification décentralisée des certificats interopérables signés numériquement. 

Les fuites de données sont malheureusement assez courantes. Ainsi en janvier, une violation de données à l’Agence européenne des médicaments a conduit des pirates informatiques à publier sur internet des documents confidentiels concernant les médicaments et vaccins Covid-19.

Une configuration décentralisée devrait soi-disant permettre de faire face à ce risque, mais si toutes sortes d’informations sensibles sont stockées sur les téléphones des citoyens, ils devront faire preuve d’une attention renforcée lors de l’utilisation de leur appareil.

D’après l’expérience passée, on peut donc s’attendre à très rapidement entendre des histoires d’abus d’informations, ainsi que d’importantes fuites de données.

LE PASSEPORT VACCINAL ET L’ÉQUITÉ

Au-delà des aspects techniques du passeport numérique pour les vaccins, nous devons également considérer cela du point de vue de l’équité.

Une grande partie du monde en développement est très éloignée de l’accès à un vaccin contre le Covid. Imposer un nouvel obstacle aussi insurmontable aux personnes originaires d’Asie ou d’Afrique, en plus des exigences de visa existantes, est tout simplement cruel, un cas que j’ai également présenté lors d’une apparition sur Consumer Choice Radio et dans un article pour The Dispatch.

En outre, il convient de noter que de nombreux pays européens proposent des tests gratuits, ce qui est susceptible de s’arrêter à mesure que les vaccinations seront déployées. Les voyageurs devront donc financer les tests requis, ce qui peut être assez coûteux pour certains d’entre eux.

LE PASSEPORT VACCINAL ET LES DÉMOCRATIES LIBÉRALES

Les démocraties libérales devraient simplement s’abstenir de la mesure intrusive d’un passeport vaccinal. Les gouvernements ne devraient pas être en mesure de demander nos données sur la santé, que nous entrions dans un bar ou au bureau des passeports de l’aéroport.

En effet, c’est ce qui sépare les pays libres de la Chine et d’autres nations asiatiques, même si leur gestion de Covid a été supérieure. Être à l’abri de ce virus ne devrait pas être la seule norme. Pouvoir voyager sans être embêté par des agents de l’État et pouvoir refuser de divulguer des informations médicales privées sont des droits fondamentaux.

En plus de cela, nous devons faire très attention à la pente glissante que constituerait un passeport vaccinal européen. Rien n’est aussi permanent qu’une mesure gouvernementale temporaire. Le passeport vaccinal pourrait devenir pérenne à long terme, une quantité croissante de renseignements personnels serait recueillie sous le prétexte de la santé et de la sécurité publiques.

Il est également important de prendre en compte la légitimité qu’un tel passeport confère aux pays autoritaires. Si l’Union européenne le fait, quels seront ses arguments pour reprocher à des régimes comme la Russie, la Biélorussie ou l’Afrique du Nord d’enregistrer des informations sur la santé pendant une durée indéterminée ? Comme le fait valoir Adam Mazik dans The Conservative, de nombreuses lois violant les droits civils dans des pays comme la Russie ont souvent été calquées sur leur équivalent européen.

LES CONSÉQUENCES SUR L’ESPACE SCHENGEN

Le passeport vaccinal européen peut également porter atteinte à l’espace Schengen sur le long terme. Les compagnies aériennes pourraient être en mesure de vérifier le certificat numérique sans grande difficulté pendant le processus d’embarquement. Mais si les États membres appliquent avec sérieux les règles de voyage, aucun transfert en bateau, train ou passage de frontière en voiture ne devrait être exempté de ces contrôles. À moins que cela ne soit fait au niveau de l’espace Schengen, mais les douze derniers mois montrent à quel point ses pays sont réticents à coordonner leurs politiques de santé.

En plus de tout cela, la question reste de savoir si les forces de l’ordre auront la possibilité de procéder à un contrôle aléatoire du passeport vaccinal par exemple en interpellant les gens dans les rues. Voulons-nous vraiment d’un tel certificat et de ses potentielles dérives ?

Une pétition contre le certificat de vaccin européen a déjà reçu plus de 200 000 signatures en ligne. On peut s’attendre à plus d’opposition.

Le passeport vaccinal européen signifie vraiment une augmentation des pouvoirs de l’État qui devrait faire frémir quiconque apprécie les libertés individuelles et le respect de la vie privée. Il est grand temps de mettre fin au processus bureaucratique en train de le déployer.

Originally published here.

The global organizations and populists who aim to seize COVID vaccine tech and IP

When Donald Trump claimed in September 2020 that every American would have access to vaccines by April 2021, his comments received scorn. The Washington Post said his claims were “without evidence,” CNN quoted health experts who said it was impossible, and The New York Times claimed it would take another decade.

Now, a year into this pandemic, nearly half of the eligible population has received at least one vaccine dose in the U.S., and distribution has been opened to every American adult.

Operation Warp Speed, which invested tax dollars and helped reduce bureaucracy across the board, has contributed to what has truly been a miraculous effort by vaccine firms.

While Trump’s proclamations eventually become true and the question of vaccine ability has been settled, there is now pressure on the Biden administration to turn over domestic vaccine supply to countries with skyrocketing cases.

On Sunday, the U.S. declared it will send additional medical supplies to India, currently experiencing the largest global spike in cases.

But at international bodies, countries and activist groups are petitioning for far more: they want to force biotech companies to waive intellectual property rights on vaccines and COVID-related medical technology.

Along with nearly 100 other countries, India and South Africa are the architects of a motion at the World Trade Organization called a TRIPS Waiver (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights).

If the waiver is triggered, it would ostensibly nullify IP protections on COVID vaccines, allowing other countries to copy the formulas developed by private vaccine firms to inoculate their populations and play into the hands of future governments more hostile to private innovation.

This week, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai met with the heads of the various vaccine makers to discuss the proposal, but it is uncertain if the Biden administration will support the measure at the WTO.

While many companies have voluntarily pledged to sell them at cost or even offered to share information with other firms, this measure would have more far-reaching implications.

This coalition seeking the TRIPS waiver includes Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, and World Health Organization Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who first backed this effort in 2020 before any coronavirus vaccine was approved.

They claim that because COVID represents such a global threat and because western governments have poured billions in securing and helping produce vaccines, low and middle-income countries should be relieved of the burden of purchasing them.

Considering the specialized knowledge needed to develop these vaccines and the cold storage infrastructure required to distribute them, it seems implausible that any of this could be achieved outside the traditional procurement contracts we’ve seen in the European Union and the U.S.

That said, rather than celebrating the momentous innovation that has led to nearly a dozen globally-approved vaccines to fight a deadly pandemic in record time, these groups are trumpeting a populist message that pits so-called “rich” countries against poor ones.

Intellectual property rights are protections that help foster innovation and provide legal certainty to innovators so that they can profit from and fund their efforts. A weakening of IP rules would actively hurt the most vulnerable who depend on innovative medicines and vaccines.

If the cost of researching and producing a COVID vaccine is truly $1 billion as is claimed, with no guarantee of success, there are relatively few biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies that can stomach that cost.

BioNTech, the German company headed by the husband-wife team of Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci that partnered with Pfizer for trials and distribution of their mRNA vaccine, was originally founded to use mRNA to cure cancer.

Before the pandemic, they took on massive debt and scrambled to fund their research. Once the pandemic began, they pivoted their operations and produced one of the first mRNA COVID vaccines, which hundreds of millions of people have received.

With billions in sales to governments and millions in direct private investment, we can expect the now-flourishing BioNTech to be at the forefront of mRNA cancer research, which could give us a cure. The same is true of the many orphan and rare diseases that do not otherwise receive major funding.

Would this have been possible without intellectual property protections?

Moderna, for its part, has stated it will not enforce the IP rights on its mRNA vaccine and will hand over any research to those who can scale up production. The developers of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have pledged to sell it at cost until the pandemic is over.

While this should smash the narrative presented by the populists and international organizations who wish to obliterate IP rights, instead they have doubled down, stating that these companies should hand over all research and development to countries that need them.

If we want to be able to confront and end this pandemic, we will continue to need innovation from both the vaccine makers and producers who make this possible. Granting a one-time waiver will create a precedent of nullifying IP rights for a host of other medicines, which would greatly endanger future innovation and millions of potential patients.

Especially in the face of morphing COVID variants, we need all incentives on the table to protect us against the next phase of the virus. 

Rather than seeking to tear them down those who have performed the miracle of quick, cheap, and effective vaccines, we should continue supporting their innovations by defending their intellectual property rights.

Yaël Ossowski (@YaelOss) is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center, a global consumer advocacy group.

After Covid disaster surely game’s up for pitiable World Health Organizaton COMMENT

SINCE the first case of Covid was detected in Wuhan in December 2019, the coronavirus has infected more than 130 million people across the world, killing almost three million.

Many thousands of words have been written about the failures of local health authorities like Public Health England in preparing us for a pandemic, but perhaps the most important body of all has still not been properly held to account: the World Health Organization. Before 2020, most Brits probably didn’t know very much, if anything, about the WHO. It’s an arm of the United Nations, like the International Monetary Fund or the World Trade Organization, spending most of its time working away in the background to safeguard against health emergencies, leaving the rest of us to get on with our lives.

Except, of course, as we have now learned, the WHO was wilfully neglecting its duties and generally doing a terrible job, at enormous cost.

The WHO was wildly unprepared for the pandemic – with tragic consequences – because it spent much of its time playing politics rather than serving its purpose.

It failed to do any of the things it should have done when the virus first broke out, even those as fundamental as being transparent about what was going on.

It wasted valuable time before declaring a pandemic. It cosied up to China rather than tracing the origin of the virus. It issued actively harmful advice against masks.

Put simply, it is hard to imagine how a well-funded body charged with protecting people’s health could possibly have performed any worse.

Even putting aside its appallingly close political relationship with the dictatorial, genocidal Chinese Communist Party, the WHO failed to perform its most basic function, tripping up at every hurdle.

If the world had been better prepared, perhaps Covid would not have resulted in the unnecessary deaths of millions of people.

The WHO has form when it comes to mishandling epidemics. During the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, and again during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, it came in for widespread criticism.

One of the factors singled out as a cause of its mismanagement of these crises was an aversion to offending member states, in exactly the same way that it is now loath to offend China.

There’s no reason why these awful failures should be the new normal. In the 20th century, the WHO was effectively responsible for eradicating smallpox. But since then, things seem to have gone drastically downhill.

The WHO has patently failed to adequately address the scourge of anti-vaxxers leading to diseases like measles, which were all but eradicated, but which are now making a comeback around the world.

The WHO also received widespread criticism from animal conservation groups for recognising traditional Chinese medicine in its international guidelines after lobbying by Beijing, despite its role in driving the illegal trade and poaching of endangered species including pangolins and tigers — a trade that might ironically have contributed to the coronavirus’s outbreak in the first place.

The problems with the WHO run deep. It should not have taken a once-in-a-generation health disaster to expose them.

It’s time to ask some existential and probing questions. What is the WHO? What is it for? Where are its vast funds coming from? At the moment, it is trying to pretend it is both a humble, do-gooder charity which just has our best interests at heart and an all-powerful supranational organisation. It wants to be the undisputed centre of power for healthcare around the world, but without ever being held accountable for its actions. If the WHO is a charity, it should not be playing politics and cosying up to dictatorial regimes. If it’s not a charity, it must be subject to proper democratic oversight.

The WHO has not expressed any hint of remorse over its failures. There is no reason to think it is going to voluntarily change the way it operates. It’s high time for the rest of us to stand up to it and demand some answers.

Originally published here.

The Commission’s great U-Turn on mRNA vaccines

Here’s a change of heart we can support…

Back in January I published a blog post on this site asking the question of whether the new generation of COVID-19 vaccines will change our view on genetic engineering. In a statement back in July last year, the European Parliament said that “The derogation will facilitate the development, authorisation and consequently availability of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments”. According to EU legislation dating back to the early 2000s, genetic engineering is generally forbidden, with only a few exceptions. This was particularly driven by the scepticism of genetic engineering in agriculture. The Pfizer/Biontech, which to date remains the most prominent and incidentally most trusted COVID-19, something that surveys have also shown with our friends in the United States.

Now, the Commission is surfing the wave of the popularity of this vaccine in order to bank on mRNA shots for fighting COVID-19. And, as Euractiv reports, more voices are supportive of these vaccines in the fight against future pandemics: “Commenting on the news, centre-right MEP Peter Liese said he supported the decision to move towards mRNA vaccines, pointing out that they can be better adapted to mutations.”

Peter Liese is to be commended for his statement on this matter. Indeed, this new technology which relies on genetic engineering is very promising. For some experts, mRNA vaccines hold the key to faster and more effective vaccine programmes, capable of fighting multiple viruses in a single injection or providing protection against recalcitrant diseases (diseases characterised by poor survival and with little progress made in developing novel treatments).

In January, Moderna launched new programmes to develop mRNA vaccines for Nipah virus, HIV and influenza, adding to its portfolio of 20 mRNA candidates. Pfizer is also developing new mRNA vaccines, including one for seasonal flu. Several dozen other manufacturers and laboratories around the world are currently involved in similar initiatives.

The use of mRNA as a therapeutic or vaccine technique has been studied and developed for over a decade. Its interest seems to go beyond the field of vaccines against infectious diseases and also concerns cancers (see, for example, the immunotherapy products under development at BioNTech, or diseases with an autoimmune component (a treatment against multiple sclerosis is under development at BioNTech).

COVID-19 will have accelerated the large-scale evaluation of mRNA technologies. It is likely that this approach will expand massively in the coming years, also benefiting from advances in microencapsulation (nanoparticle) technologies. This technology could be refined by allowing nanoparticles to target specific cells by adding specific recognition molecules (e.g. ligands, receptors, antibodies) to the particle membrane. It will then be possible to deliver mRNA only to cells that need it (e.g. to compensate for the absence of a protein in genetic diseases, as with gene therapy, or to eliminate infected or tumour cells).

However, for this to happen the European Union ought to change its general approach to genetic engineering. While the support for the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine is commendable, more needs to be done from the point of view of legislation. There is a significant logical discrepancy when we are ready to use genetic engineering for medical purposes, but we somehow reject it in the field of agriculture. There are comparable health benefits to using similar technologies in our food; not least since the invention of vitamin B-heavy Golden Rice for the Asian market have genetically modified foods shown to be inherently linked to healthier food. On top of that, we can achieve our climate ambitions through new technologies that consume less resources at higher yields.

Originally published here.

Does the CDC’s Mask Mandate for 2-Year-Old Children Make Sense? A Look at the Science

The justifications for requiring young children to be masked are that either they are at-risk for COVID, or at-risk for being carriers of the virus.

In the age of COVID, flying carries significant risks for you and your family.

Part of that is the virus itself, but increasingly, parents are being kicked off flights because their young children are refusing to wear facemasks.

Across the US and Canada, hundreds of stories have been highlighted in which families have been physically removed from flights because their toddlers did not want to wear masks.

Whether it is on SouthwestJetBlueAmerican AirlinesSpirit Airlines, or United, practically every US airline has had a version of the horror story of a young family escorted off a flight because a kid didn’t want to wear a mask. There have been cases where single mothers with up to six children have been booted, and even kids who were eating before the flight took off.

Worse, many of these airlines permanently ban passengers who refuse to comply with this policy, even children.

This particularly concerns me as I will soon be taking an international flight back to the US with my two-year-old. She has never been forced to wear a mask, whether in daycare or travel in Europe, and I doubt she will leave it tight and snug for the 9-hour long-haul. Should I already have my lawyer on speed dial?

While many airlines have had similar policies for months, those rules are now based on an administrative order published by the Centers for Disease Control on January 29, 2021, following one of the bevy of executive orders signed by President Joe Biden in his first few days in office.

While Biden’s order requires masks for domestic and international travel, he leaves the specific guidelines to the CDC. But even though the CDC has been stringent on its rule of masks for all persons two and above, this directly contradicts what we know about COVID-19 and children.

At present, the justifications for requiring young children to be masked are that either they are at-risk for COVID, or at-risk for being carriers of the virus.

On the first point, all the available data we have from multiple studies in dozens of countries shows that children are not particularly at risk for hospitalization or death.

The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that 13.4 percent of COVID cases have been adolescent children under 18, mostly in the older age range. Young children fared better.

As of December 2020, when we had the most complete age breakdown, children 0-4 represented 1.3 percent of all COVID cases in the United States, at 212,879. Just over 2 percent of those were hospitalized (0.02 percent in total), and 52 in total had died.

For statewide data, in California, with the most number of cases in the country, there have so far been two COVID deaths recorded for children under five.

While every death related to COVID is indeed tragic, especially when it relates to young children, the relative risk is incredibly low.

But what about young children spreading the disease to their parents and grandparents?

A CDC-conducted study in Rhode Island in July 2020 found that the opening of childcare centers did not lead to a spread of coronavirus.

Further, one Icelandic study from December found that young children were half as likely to catch and spread the virus, and that “infected adults pose a greater danger to children than kids do to adults.”

A wide-ranging study conducted in Israel and published in February found that young people under 20 carry 63 percent less viral load than adults, meaning they have less propensity to spread the virus. That number is even lower among toddlers.

While the headlines would have us believe otherwise, with all the available data we have now, young children under six are not significant spreaders of COVID, even with potential variants.

Beyond that, Stanford’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, citing studies from Sweden and the World Health Organization, recommended in the Wall Street Journal that we avoid masking children up until at least 11, considering the low risk of infection and the very real hazard of stunting kids’ developmental progress.

Bhattacharya was one of the many prominent medical experts present—along with Sunetra Gupta of Oxford, Martin Kulldorff of Harvard, and Scott Atlas of Stanford—at the COVID roundtable held last month by Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis. All advised against masking children for various health reasons, though their views have now been banned from YouTube for discussing the topic.

Bans aside, the medical literature largely supports Bhattacharya’s claims that the benefits of masking children are “small to none,” while the costs are high.

How then can the CDC continue to mandate that toddlers wear masks on long travel journeys, especially when they cause a fraction of the risk of an adult? These rules seem to have been written by people who do not have young children, and do not understand why it is problematic.

To leave the toddler mask mandate in place severely limits the freedom of children and young families to travel, and stands against the scientific and medical facts.

If ever there was a time to allow science to inform our judgments, it is now. Otherwise, this is nothing more than pandemic theatre.

Originally published here.

Preparing for the next virus

The Consumer Choice Center’s Fred Roeder and Maria Chaplia report on a recent event that looked at why the EU must safeguard intellectual property rights to prepare for future pandemics.

COVID-19 took its toll on millions of people and even more are suffering from the economic consequences of the pandemic. Instead of increasing our pandemic preparedness, we are seeing more and more populist calls, both at EU and Member State level, for the erosion of intellectual property (IP) rights, jeopardising the future of innovation. COVID-19 is likely only the first of many public health crises we will encounter in the next decades, and we need to keep innovators incentivised and provide them with legislative certainty. The EU has to commit to the protection of IP rights and champion it not just at home, but globally through EU trade policy.

Policies enacted during the pandemic have predominantly come as kneejerk reactions to issues on the ground, rather than well thought out plans. As we have witnessed in the case of lockdowns and trade restrictions, acting fast without considering long-term costs can be devastating. At a global level, that also involves continuous calls for the extension of the TRIPS waiver, a clause that would allow World Trade Organization members to lift protections on certain intellectual property rights.

Rushing such decisions could imperil entire generations. Safeguarding IP rights is our only chance to make it possible for patients who will one day be diagnosed with incurable diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Cystic Fibrosis, Diabetes, or HIV/AIDS, to ever be cured.

“There are simply not enough doses of vaccines, and the vision of the EU future should be not only green and digital, but also resilient,” Franc Bogovič MEP (SI, EPP)

European policymakers should put their pursuit of short-term approval from the voters aside and reconsider the role of intellectual property rights in preventing future pandemics and, overall, what could have been done better. This was one of the key questions of an online discussion between Franc Bogovic MEP and James Tumbridge, Common Councilman of the City of London, that we at the Consumer Choice Center hosted on 19 February.

COVID-19 in Europe: Is the EU losing the vaccine race?

When it comes to Covid vaccinations, Germany stands accused of buying up extra doses, while other EU countries simply aren’t taking all the doses they’re allowed.

Is the financial muscle of Germany at play here as the country is said to be looking after its own interests at the expense of others?

The Consumer Choice Center Managing Director Fred Roeder joined the Roundtable show at TRT World to discuss #COVID19 and #vaccines in #Europe.

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